mituns: (Default)
Recently, I read the book Nikolai Berdyaev's book "The Fate of Man in the Modern World", which, despite being a fairly small book (about 130 pages) and dealing with the issues of Europe in 1935, is still quite prescient and touches upon many issues that the "modern world" is still dealing with.

Berdyaev himself was a Marxist who came back to Orthodox Christianity and was eventually exiled from the Soviet Union because of his writings. He first ended up in Berlin, but after a period of a couple years, he settled in France, where he lived out the rest of his days. Because of this, he has firsthand experience living in Russia, Germany, and France, and as he speaks about the modern world, much of what he writes about centers on these countries.

However, in 1935, which was the year this book was written, it was not as though these countries were somehow insignificant on the world stage. The Soviet Union had existed for 17 years, and behind the wall of socialist utopia, Berdyaev understood entirely what socialism does to human beings who are trapped in that system. In 1935, Adolf Hitler had been in power in Germany for two years, and again, Berdyaev considered what had happened in Germany to have been something akin to mass insanity of which nothing good could come.

In dealing with the substance of "the fate of man" in this current age, Berdyaev also is no huge fan of capitalism, as he sees that in its pure form, it is as dehumanizing as socialism. As he understands it, a Christian society is one that necessarily has elements of socialism, and so he's considered by many to be a "Christian socialist". However, the more I think about this, the more I believe that he is correct.

This isn't to say that I believe that socialism is the right way to go, and I don't believe that he would either. Take, for instance, the book "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand. Rand is adept at painting the picture of the world as it is when government strangles free enterprise, when it picks winners and losers for the sake of fairness, etc. At most Tea Parties, there are numerous signs with pictures of Rand, with the question "Who is John Galt?" as well as other references to this work. It is a powerful work, but it largely fails when it comes to answering the question of why someone who is gaining power and influence would also not use illicit means to solidify that growing power and influence. Her answer seems to be along the lines of "Excellence breeds virtue", and to demonstrate that, all of the elite characters are truthful and good when it comes to matters of business.

However, this worldview - objectivism - is hardly virtuous in a Christian sense. In the world of Atlas Shrugged, for example, charity is considered weakness, and traditional "moral" values such as fidelity and chastity are nothing more than old and useless traditions. Without a Christian base, this is logical. Communism values man as far as his contribution to the collective; in "pure" capitalism, man's value is still determined as a function of his production.

Berdyaev, though, avers Christianity as something that is different, that raises man up and out of the vicious circle of communistic and purely capitalistic societies. Christianity insists that one's worth is intrinsic to one's being, regardless of what that person can produce either for himself or for society. As a Christian, one is called to take upon himself a code of conduct that calls him to act in a "Christian" way; a way in which he does not lie, cheat, or steal, that he supports the poor, old, and hungry through willing acts of charity. Ironically enough, it is when people act in these ways, a civil society is built, upon which just about any type of governing system can be placed (though, for obvious reasons, socialism will only work in places like monasteries), because people, as a whole, will govern themselves.

And so, in America at least, we have two different groups who consider themselves "conservative" even though their worldviews are often quite a bit different. In the example of the "Tea Party", it comes to a shock to many that a large percentage of those who support this "libertarian" movement are the dreaded "social-conservatives", who, if we are to believe what is being said, want to use government to enforce their (usually) "Christian" values on everybody. The other group is the more "libertarian" group, who claim to make very few "values" assessments, and claim to just want to be left alone by government as well as others.

In these days, there are quite a number of places where the interests of these two groups converge, but it is amazing to see the amount of infighting among the "conservative" movement as to who is a "true" conservative. For this reason, even though many, many people see Rick Santorum as a conservative, because he is squarely in the "Christian values" group, many of the more libertarian-minded point out repeatedly how he can't possibly be a conservative and at the same time encourage a return to "family values" and make statements against contraception and pornography.

To the Libertarian, freedom itself becomes the highest ideal, and a government should serve no more than to keep society from falling into the chaos of anarchy. Yet this type of freedom lends itself to many abuses and an eventual de-humanizing of the soul. As to the conundrum that Christianity and freedom have created from the beginning, I refer back to the words of St. Paul: "For ye, brethren, were called for freedom; only use not your freedom for an occasion to the flesh, but through love be servants one to another. (Gal 5:13)
mituns: (czech cross)
In the Orthodox Christian tradition, today is the first Sunday of Lent, a day called the "Sunday of Orthodoxy" or "The Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy". According to OrthodoxWiki, it is the celebration of the victory of the iconodules over the iconoclasts by the decision of the Seventh Ecumenical Council. Therefore, the service is to commemorate the restoration of icons for use in services and private devotional life of Christians.

One of the common practices on this day is to have the members of the parish, or the parish children, process in or around the church carrying icons. Icons are considered to be "windows to heaven", so to speak, not to be worshipped themselves, but to serve to remind the faithful of those who have defended the Faith, and often died in the process.

The priest who gave the homily spoke of an old widow in Albania, who, in the early 1990s had her house ransacked by military police who came in and destroyed all the icons in her home. As they were leaving, she told the soldiers that they forgot one, and so they went back into the home to search for it. They could not find it, and as they were about to leave again, she told them that they had missed it. Again, the soldiers went through the house and found nothing. Finally, she told the soldiers that she was a living icon of God, and upon hearing this, the soldiers beat her badly.

We are created in the image and likeness of God, "living icons", if you will. As I watched the children process around the church with icons, it became clear why a secular society would be entirely hostile to children: As children, they are closer to God. They carry in themselves something holy, a birthright that many adults have either forgotten, or have sold for a single bowl of soup. In the Gospels, when the children are being shooed away from Jesus, he reprimands those doing this, saying, "Let the little children come unto me and forbid them not, for such is the kingdom of heaven". In my own experience, I've seen this myself; my daughter, not even being two, intrinsically understood things about God that nobody had ever told her. In this fallen world, the Truth which the little children bear witness to cannot be borne, and so the world must do its best to do away with as many children as possible. No wonder having more than an "acceptable" number of children these days seems more and more a political statement!
mituns: (Default)
In all fairness, not all the comments are bad ones, but in this small article (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/germany/9064139/Declared-a-saint-the-anti-Hitler-activist-beheaded-by-Nazis-at-age-25.html) about the recent glorification of Alexander Schmorell as a saint in the Orthodox Christian Church, many of them are completely rude, ignorant, mean-spirited, and vulgar. The article itself isn't terribly well written (and was originally ridden with misspellings of Alexander Schmorell's name), but that doesn't take away from the extraordinary life this young man, who was executed at age 25 by the Nazis, led. As part of a small group of courageous people, spurred forward by their Christian faith, he and his friends, for a time calling themselves the White Rose tried to help foment popular resistance to Hitler and the Nazis through their leaflets and deeds.

In a secular understanding, they failed miserably. For all their effort, they failed to incite any sort of widespread, grass-roots resistance to the Third Reich. Furthermore, they were caught and executed at a time when many believed that the best thing talented young people could do was wait out the war and try to lead Germany from out of the inevitable rubble.

However, as believers in Christ, the measure of success is far different, and totally incomprehensible to those who do not know Him. To aspire to the Christian ideal is the ultimate foolishness; that one should strive for virtue must be ridiculed because the light of that virtue reveals the dark gutters which many believe they are happy wallowing in. To the members of the White Rose, it was a moral imperative to act against the forces of evil that the Third Reich was, characterizing it as "the dictatorship of evil" and calling Hitler and the Nazis "servants of the antichrist".

Having been caught, arrested, tried, sentenced to death, and facing execution in less than two weeks, Schmorell wrote wrote his sister, the following It will perhaps surprise you, then, when I write that from day to day I become calmer inside, even cheerful and happy, that my state of mind is, for the most part, better than it was earlier in freedom! Where does this come from? I want to explain that to you right now: This whole terrible misfortune was necessary in order to bring me to the true way - and because of that, it really wasn't a misfortune. Above all, I am happy and thankful to God that I had the chance given to me to understand where God was pointing to and through this to be able to go along the right path. What did I know then about faith, from true, deep faith, and of the truth, and above all, about God? Very little! Now, however, I have come far enough, that in my present situation, I am cheerful, calm, and confident, come what may.

It shouldn't be surprising, then, to see all the vitriol spewing forth in the comments on a little article about a true saint. After all, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you." (Jn 15:18-19 NASB) These comments do absolutely nothing to diminish who Alexander Schmorell, St Alexander now, was when he walked upon this earth or that he has come into God's eternal Glory. God cannot be mocked, and it surely is foolish to even imagine that a few careless and ignorant comments sent out into cyberspace do anything to facilitate a "takedown" of a saint.

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